The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Ring, ring, ring...

It is his most precious possession, which he balks at the thought of giving up. His little black book ' now often silver, blue, or even pink ' is always at his fingertips. Professionally, he is at his wit's end without it. He might claim that family ties are stronger with the 12 little buttons in his pocket, but mom definitely feels otherwise...

Some people and their cell phones! They have become inseparable.

When 58 per cent of young Calcuttans, working and studying, teenager to mid-30s, declare in a survey conducted by Mode for Metro on Sunday that the tiny (and getting tinier) gadget they grasp in their hands has become a lifeline, it is clear that telephony has invaded our collective consciousness.

Around 23 per cent reveal they can't stand to be separated from their set, even in the bathroom!

The mobile phone is no longer a tool of necessity. For the user, it is a rather dependent relationship of love as much as of need, writing its own rules and bringing with it a sense of community. Around 39 per cent ranked it their most important gadget, above landlines, computers, microwaves, cars and even ousting the TV from its hallowed space in our hearts.

But precious as they may be to our lives, every cell phone has still been dropped an average of 6.5 times, admit respondents!

Professional and personal

While all those surveyed agreed that the cell has enhanced professional communication, most users ' 98 per cent ' are footing the bill themselves. Average monthly billing is still modest ' just above Rs 548.

Again, contrary to the professional benefits most claimed, it is friends who are being called and are calling the most. Around 43 per cent of respondents said they used their cell to call or contact friends the most frequently.

If you've heard too much about cell smut this week, here is some good news. A total 99 per cent of polled users feel their handheld has enhanced family interaction, and 98 per cent add that it has completely changed the way they interact with family and friends. Most calls made last between two and three minutes.

Word versus voice

The common crib point may be that the young are constantly SMSing, but most respondents pegged daily text message count at just five.

However, the text format does have its loyalists. Around 83 per cent use SMS, with the percentage significantly higher in the student category. Over 96 per cent of boys and 92 per cent of girls use it regularly. Across all users, 76 per cent admit to having conveyed important information over SMS, and 27 per cent recount a spat over SMS.

'Messages are a real convenience. It doesn't seem like an intrusion when you message someone, it doesn't matter if they are busy or in a meeting,' explains a 26-year-old professional hooked to the medium.

But professionally, voice continues to score over word, with a majority not preferring to call for business baatein.

For others, it has been a tool to shed inhibitions of a sexual nature. Many users report sending or receiving flirtatious or even more graphic sexual messages.

The Siemens Mobile Lifestyle Survey 2004 conducted in Asia found that 29 per cent of Indians send 'for your eyes only pictures' and 17 per cent 'like to talk dirty through the phone'. Almost 25 per cent admitted to sending messages to wrong numbers to 'meet someone new'.

With so much action happening, it should come as no surprise that in Calcutta, around 62 per cent switch off their phones only at night.

Tech tide

Calls, however, are still the driver for the business. 'Acquisition is driven by voice. As we move on, there will be a convergence of technology. Right now it is too premature to say if it will become an acquisition tool,' feels Kumar Ramanathan, CEO, Hutch (Calcutta).

The Ravirajs may come and go, but cell phone culture is still evolving because of changing needs and customer profile as much as emerging technologies.

'It depends on the ability to adopt technology, to make it more user-friendly and relevant,' adds Ramanathan.

Music is big, gaming is great, video streaming is being developed with the 3G wave. For the 12 per cent of respondents who feel that a cell phone is a fashion statement, such frills ' the fancier the better ' are must-haves.

Another focus on growth is cutting across boundaries. Mobile penetration is not only widening, it is deepening, with the number of multi-cell phone homes on the rise.

'People are going out more often so even housewives are on the move,' says Ramanathan. Second ownership is an indication of the spread of use for personal purposes, not just business. 'Children under 15 are sometimes given phones with outgoing calls disabled to help parents keep in touch.'

Always on call

At the end of the day ' or the beginning ' it's all about accessibility. And the perceived professional benefits are still strong. Around 95 per cent of those surveyed actually like being accessible to office, all the time. Around 93 per cent feel more in control of their work environment, cell phone in hand.

Accessibility has marginal downsides too. Many people choose not to take calls and some switch off phones on occasion. It annoys 81 per cent of users to find a person they are trying to call has switched off their phone. For others, it can be a source of anxiety.

'Most visiting cards still don't have mobile numbers despite the fact that it is a clear product enhancement tool,' points out Ramanathan.

For professionals in emergency services, the cell is both welcome and worrisome. 'For those in surgery, it takes away concentration the moment it rings. But it also makes doctors more accessible and reachable and facilitates regular follow-ups with patients in hospital,' feels radiologist Suman Sarawgi.

There are a few times when the Calcuttan feels taking a call is inappropriate. A reassuring 96 per cent feel it is wrong to talk on the phone while driving. Teachers will take heart that 96 per cent say taking a call during a lecture should be avoided. During a puja or memorial, 83 per cent advocate silence cells. But during parties, social calls and meal times, few raise an objection to the ring.

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